How to: give and receive feedback.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

Elon Musk

A couple of days before writing this article I attended an event about feedback. I went there with my hopes low thinking that this will be just another boring event. But o boy, was I pleasantly surprised to be part of a group, not an audience.

The event was organised by Women in tech Cluj. I absorbed a lot of information from the meeting. The most important guide lines that stuck in my head are:

Golden rule of giving feedback : Prepare your mindset before you give feedback.
Golden rule when receiving feedback: Say thank you.

Think about feedback like a gift, wrapped beautifully and picked personally for our taste. What do we do after we receive a gift? We gladly say thank you. That is the case with feedback too. Saying thank you for a comment we receive allows us to accept the feedback and gives us time to process our emotions.

– Give –

In my opinion there are 4 difficult cases when it comes to delivering feedback.

1. You want to give positive feedback to a person with lower self esteem. Keep in mind, you will have to deal with a lot of focus on the negative parts. Shift his focus from his failures to his victories. Literally show him what he he was great at.  

Bad: “Great code!”
Good: “Hey this is good code. I see here what you did with that variable. I like it!”

2. Negative feedback given to an insecure person. Understand his mindset, show him that you care for him. Even if you are there to give negative feedback, you want to help him grow. Don’t involve any idea about his/her inner self or self-esteem because it will trigger his defense barriers.

Bad: “I see the error here. I told you many times: Use tabs not spaces! You never understand.”
Good: “I see the error. I understand how this was made. It happened to me too. Do you want to know how I solved it?”

3. Positive feedback for people with high self-esteem. This is simple, tell him what he did good and you will have his attention. Keep in mind to not inflate his ego. On the long term an inflated ego can be wall for negative feedback. 

Bad: “I really like this logic. You are the best back-end developer we have right now.”
Good: “Nice! I see what you did here, clever solution.”

4. Negative comment given to someone with high self-esteem. This is a bomb. Be careful to defuse the situation. Take your time and be precise when constructing your feedback. Don’t threaten his past successes.

Bad: “Yeah I heard about it. I knew you could not do it.  Have a good day!”
Good: “Hey, I heard the bad news. I understand, it happened to me too. If that is fixed everything will be fine.”

– Receive –

The most basic thing when receiving feedback is to respond with an answer.
When you receive a comment (good or bad) I encourage you to say the words: Thank you! Then, speak your mind.

Contemplate about this conflict when you receive feedback:

There is a state engaged in war. The state is ruled by an army general and a scientist. When a plane crashes on enemy territory. 

The reaction of the general is:
 “Prepare for battle” – Gandalf the wise

Meanwhile, the scientist is asking himself: was our plane verified before we let it fly? Could have we prevented the crash of our plane?Like in the story above. There are two types of answers to give when receiving feedback.

  • First, the immediate reaction. That is based on emotions alone.
  • Second, the logical answer based on facts and deliberation.

1.Use the words “Thank you!” to buy time for your scientist and find a logical answer. Never let the general steal your answer.

Bad response:
John: Come on what is this. I told you so many times use the big data principle here.
Marry: Yeah like you would know something about big data, come on leave me alone i know what I have to do!

Good response:
John: Come on what is this. I told you so many times use the big data principle here.
Marry: Thanks! I see, please give me a tutorial so that I don’t bother you with this anymore. Now I know what I have to do!

2.Always ask, if you don’t fully understand what your interlocutor had said to you. Miscommunication is one of many reasons of a non constructive feedback loop.

Bad response:
John: Hey! See this line here, it happened to me too, but the quantum discombobulator did not discombobulate so you know…
Marry: Thanks! Oh yeah the thing. Of course I know.

Good response:
John: Hey! See this line here, it happened to me too, but the quantum discombobulator did not discombobulate, so you know…
Marry: I see… Please help yourself with a cup of coffee and take a seat to explain the discombobulated thing. It would help me a lot.”

Of course, don’t be a robot and say thank you after every phrase you get from your interlocutor. Be relaxed and honest in your voice tonality. Use it accordingly.

 – Conclusion –

Whengiving a comment tailor your feedback for your interlocutor by his behavior not his personality or your past interaction.
When receiving feedback don’t let emotions get the best of your answer. It will ruin the conversation.

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